10 days to go…

In 10 days, there will be no more door knocking, no more debates and no more election broadcasts. In 10 days, the general election will have ended, yet we still may not know which parties will make up our government. Yes, parties.

You’ve probably heard it before, if you haven’t, it’s definitely been said: this is the tightest election for a generation. Labour or the Conservatives will win the election, by a few seats at most, and will be forced into a coalition or formal agreement with a combination of mainly the SNP, Liberal Democrats and UKIP, or be compelled to form a minority government. So let’s get one thing straight, it’s not that this is election is tight is what makes it interesting, it’s that it’s unpredictable.

There are 650 seats that will be contested on 7th May 2015. A party needs to win one-more-than-half to form a majority government i.e. 326. For the past few weeks, the polls have remained steady in England. The Conservatives and Labour are fluctuating by one point, followed by UKIP and then the Lib Dems.

Prediction: who will win the most seats?

  1. Labour / Conservatives
  2. Conservatives / Labour
  3. SNP
  4. Lib Dems
  5. DUP
  6. UKIP
  7. Greens

A few months ago, I wrote an article predicting a hung parliament. Today, I stand by that judgment even more so. Two main things will probably be the outcome in May – we’ll end up with a coalition like we did in 2010, but this time round, more parties will be required. Or, a minority government will be formed who will have to negotiate with other parties during key votes.

A coalition is not the only option in the event of a hung parliament. Any government that runs a country requires “confidence”, in other words, it can defeat a vote of no confidence called by the opposition (and pass the Budget). This has largely been the topic of conversation between the SNP and Labour Parties – whether a “formal” or “looser” agreement should be formed. In 2010, David Cameron opted for a formal coalition as opposed to a ‘Confidence and Supply’ Agreement as this system makes the passing of bills much more problematic. Depending on who wins more seats, the Conservatives could opt for this approach with the Liberal Democrats and/or UKIP, whilst Labour could do so with the SNP and/or the Liberal Democrats. In this event, David Cameron will remain in office until a new government is formed.

The SNP will win in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon has performed extremely well recently and the party’s momentum has not been lost since losing the Scottish Independence Referendum last year. As a result, the turnout in Scotland will be considerably higher than other parts of the UK. Ultimately, their votes will lose Labour most of its seats, effectively cancelling Labour wins in the South, a blessing in disguise for David Cameron, one he would not have foreseen when he signed the referendum agreement with Alex Sammond in 2012. Who would have thought – the independence vote that the SNP’s lost to leave Westminster could lead them into Westminster.

The SNP have ruled out a coalition with the Conservatives based on ideological differences. Either way, David Cameron’s Ed Miliband in Alex Sammond’s pocket campaign means no partnership will be happening here. Instead, Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly pleaded towards Ed Miliband to announce a pact between their two parties.

With just one week to go, the gloves are off between Clegg and Cameron. Mr Clegg has warned that his party being the only rational option between the far-right and far-left. Meanwhile, Mr Cameron has been trying to woo Lib Dem voters, suggesting a vote for them could lead Ed Miliband into Downing Street ‘through the back door.’ In fact, he’s been saying the same about UKIP, SNP and the Green votes as well.

The Liberal Democrats will lose many seats, but they’ll wake up on 8th May still standing. If their fellow candidates follow suit, Cameron and Clegg could resurrect the coalition. They’re in a unique position – they’re the only party that has worked with the Conservatives (some would even say successfully) and can align with Labour. If such a situation emerges, the Liberal Democrats could be the kingmakers once again. They have a stronghold in some parts, so will be expecting to keep at least a third of their seats and hope for half. That’s if the Deputy Prime Minister can retain his seat. The residents of Sheffield Hallam seem to have forgotten all about his 53.4% majority and the rise of Cleggmania last time round, with Lord Ashcroft’s latest poll placing Mr Clegg two points behind his Labour opposition. Just imagine, after it all, in two weeks we could have Nick Clegg no longer remain an MP if he looses his seat, or still remain Deputy Prime Minister if he wins his seat.

UKIP’s seats will definitely rise from the last general election (0) but not as significantly as their media coverage suggests. Nigel Farage and his party have made, along with the SNP, some of the biggest gains in the polls and in the EU and local elections. However, seat-by-seat, it will be difficult for them to gain more than half-a-dozen, mainly because with 2011’s electoral reform referendum long forgotten, perhaps a first-past-the-post system does not do justice for our plural party structure. (That conversation, however, is for another article). Former Tory abdicates Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless should hold on to their respective seats, with the addition of Nigel Farage, but South Thanet will be closely contested nonetheless.

Whilst UKIP’s Nigel Farage and Conservative’s David Cameron are not the best of friends, each of them have not ruled out an agreement with the other, which, in election season, means it could happen. It seems that Farage would prefer another Tory leader, however, namely Boris Johnson. There are also sinister rumours that the far right and UKIP would prefer a Miliband-led government that is defragmented over the next couple of years whilst the right regroup under new leadership.

Ed Miliband could go searching elsewhere for a few seats. The Greens in England (likely to have one seat), Plaid Cymru in Wales (three seats), the SDLP (three seats), the DUP (nine seats) and Sinn Fein (four seats), all in Northern Ireland, could make up the numbers for Miliband but the inclusion of five parties for a dozen or so seats seems a big price to pay. Furthermore, the Green Party’s overall vote share will rise, but it will be tough for them to translate these into seats, even in Brighton where their only incumbent stands.

One possibility that has not really been discussed is the formation of a government between Labour and the Conservatives. Personally, I just don’t see Miliband as the Robin to Cameron’s Batman, or even yet, the other way round! The alliance of two parties would be a lot less confusing but it could make politics less progressive in terms of an opposition or votes on important bills.

Additionally, with a minority or coalition government, the handful of backbench MPs who have remained thorns in the side of their leaders can become a voiceful nuisance, believing that Miliband and Cameron have been far to-the-left of their respective parties.

Labour and the Conservatives have remained neck-and-neck in the polls throughout the election. Part of this is due to how risk adverse campaigns are run. Party leaders pay thousands for top personnel intelligence in their camp, telling them exactly what not to say and very little to say. Message discipline is tight and even handshakes have been indoctrinated. No one wants to slip-up. It’s a bit like football – in the past, games used to be a lot more open, there used to be a lot more mistakes and positions less defined. Nowadays, every detail is analysed over and over again, diets are calculated to the bone, positions are rigorously mapped out on a pitch, so mistakes are a lot more costly. Things become a lot more tactical – a bit like applying Game Theory to politics. Does this all make politics (and football) a bit less fun?

But the underlying techniques between the two main parties remain the same: Conservatives rely on the fancy billboards and newspaper ads whilst Labour react with hard-graft, door knocking and in effect… on labour. £31.1m was spent in the general election in 2010, 53% covered by the Conservatives alone, more than double of Labour.

Social media has had its biggest role to play in a general election ever. Analysts said it is believed that the Conservatives favour Facebook, whilst Labour favours Twitter. In February, the BBC reported that the Conservative Party was spending over £100,000 a month on Facebook. It certainly seems to be working in terms of “likes” or “followers”. The Conservatives are leading the way with around 423,000 likes on Facebook, followed closely by UKIP with 410,000 likes. On the other hand, the Labour Party, have the most followers with 205,000. However, experts still argue that UK parties haven’t yet mastered the trick unlike politicians in the US. “Obama won the social media campaign because of authenticity, responsiveness and the ability to understand that there needs to be a conversation rather than a broadcast,” said Kevin Read chairman of digital, corporate and brand at PR firm Bell Pottinger.

The tenuous situation our country finds our self in is not exceptional one. According to Prof Robert Hazell of University College London’s constitution unit, of the 20 governments in the 20th century, only half have been traditional single-party majority governments. There have been five minority governments and five coalitions.

We do not, however, have such a successful track record of minority governments in the UK. It was trialled the last time for 5 months until the general election in 1997 under John Major’s Conservative Party, who had suffered a number of defections during his tenure. A failure in a Lib-Lab coalition in 1977 led to a minority Labour government, but this lost a vote of no confidence two years later by one vote. The same however, was theorised about the Coalition in 2010.

Further still, the idea that the party that wins the most seats must form government is not true. The last time this occurred was in 1923 when Labour ran a minority government with only 191 seats, but this lasted only 10 months. Although the largest party in the Commons is normally granted first preference to form a government, as did Gordon Brown pave the way for David Cameron to negotiate with the Lib Dems back in 2010, Labour this time round, even if they have less seats, have more potential alliances than the Conservatives.

Whilst by-elections may not improve results whatsoever, the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011 no longer allows minority governments to remain in power for a year or so, pass some important laws and then trigger a second by-election. So another election seems both unlikely and unfeasible.

The Conservatives will lose votes, whilst Labour’s will rise. What matters is by how much. Much of that depends on how much the Tories will suffer at the hands of UKIP and how much Labour will suffer at the hands of the SNP. As for who will make up our government: who knows?

 

By @AHassanaliUK

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